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Thoughts on children's publishing from an editor's perspective.
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1. Once Upon a Book Exhibit

I'll be going to this exhibit next week at the San Francisco Center for the Book. Their site has some amazing youtube videos. Check out Chris Raschka's beautiful little book dummies:


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2. End of an Era

Several weeks ago, Ten Speed had a little party at the T-Rex restaurant in Berkeley, just a couple of blocks from our offices, to say goodbye to Phil Wood (the bearded fellow in the panama hat in the top photo), Ten Speed's founder and owner for 35 plus years. Ten Speed's very own ukulele band was on hand to honor him and more than a few tears were shed.

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I gave this talk at last weekend's SCBWI Portland conference and thought I'd put up the little checklist that accompanies it in case it could be of help to some of you picture book authors out there.

1. Determine whether the picture book form is the best one for your story.
2. Ascertain your target age.
3. Establish the page and word counts according to age of readership and desired format.
4. On a piece of notepaper, write down a) your story’s themes and subthemes b) its target audience: age, interests, region they live in c) its plot in one sentence d) why you are the right person to tell this story and what you will do to help sell the book e) which market(s) the book would sell in: mass (big box stores), trade (bookstores), institutional (schools and libraries) and/or special markets (i.e., museums, gift stores, boutiques, aquariums, tourist shops, etc.).

5. Research competition: Is there a hole to fill? How can you make your book different/better?
6. Revise according to your new information.
7. Revise again, looking for descriptive passages where illustration can do the work. If necessary to the understanding of your story, include brief illustration notes in brackets.

8. Waiting period: Take at least two weeks away from your manuscript in order to achieve a different perspective.

9. Revise again, trying to cut at least another 100 words.
10. Read your manuscript aloud to someone. Also try recording yourself reading the story and having someone else read the story aloud. Listen for problematic rhythms, sounds, pacing.

11. Format the text for submission, making sure that you:
o chose a classic font, like Times or Garamond.
o insert one inch margins for editors’ comments.
o include word count and genre on top right corner of page 1, contact information and date on top left.
o double space.
o number your pages and include title, name, and email in header of every page.

12. Have a title that:
o makes you want to read the book.
o captures the spirit, theme, and tone of the story.
o has a pleasing sound; possible devices to consider: alliteration, internal rhyme, half- rhymes, parallel construction.

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4. Fragments of a young adult story

Several years ago, I was driving to San Francisco with my mother and she was telling me about growing up in San Francisco in the 1950's. She lived with her mother and grandparents in a dark, old house on Lombard Street. Her memories inspired me to write a story, which, as I often do, I never finished. I found the fragment the other day while organizing my Word files:

Annabelle Lucretia found the book in the closet under the stairs on a cold night when the foghorns where sounding. She had been digging with her flashlight and had found it under old photographs of dead relatives and clippings held together with rusty paperclips. Annabelle should have been in bed but she knew that her mother had snuck out her bedroom window to go dancing with the sailors at the dance halls on Market Street and Annabelle’s grandfather had fallen asleep listening to the radio in the living room. As far as her grandmother, well, there wasn’t much need to worry about her grandmother scolding her. When she did notice Annabelle, it was only to tell her that the angeli di luce her grandmother was always talking to, watched over Annabelle and that she should pray to them. Nonna was crazy---really crazy, not like the crazy of the rest of the family. Sometimes she wondered if her grandmother had always been crazy or if she’d lost her marbles and started talking to angels after something terrible happened to her. When Annabelle played with her dolls, she sometimes made up stories of what might have happened to drive her grandmother over the brink.

Nonna had a baby daughter, before Aunt Gialla was born. This baby died of polio (like that girl in my third grade class) and Nonna was so sad, that she lost her marbles. She refused to let anybody take the dead girl from her so they could bury her. She just stayed in the girl’s room, rocking her, until the corpse started to smell and her husband, Nonno, couldn’t stand it any more. They tore the baby away from Nonna but Nonna held on so tightly that one of the girl’s fingers broke off. This is what Nonna keeps in the locked jewelry box which she only opens late at night when I am asleep.

Annabelle often would sneak into Nonna's room, take the jewelry box from the top of the dresser, and shake it. Something rattled in there and it could have been a musty old finger.

Annabelle liked the illustrations in the book she found under the stairs. She was going to try copying them in her sketchbook. She wasn’t much of a reader so the stories themselves didn’t interest her much.

She took the book back to her room and opened it under the covers. In the corridor, behind her closed bedroom door, she heard the slow steps and low mutterings of Nonna. Lights from cars on Lombard Street passed over the walls, peered at her under the sheets, before flying out the window again like seagulls.

The book was old and pieces of the leather binding crumbled off on her sheets when she opened it. The illustrations were black and white wood engravings---Annabelle knew this because her art teacher, Mr. Schwartz, had showed her a book of really old ones and explained to her how they were made. These ones looked like fairytale illustrations. The book was divided into seven sections. The first one was called ‘The Maid in the Tower’ and the engraving opposite the title page showed a girl hanging out the window of a tall tower looking up at a tremendous black bird flying in the sky. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to her, a vicious looking dragon was climbing up the other side of the tower. The second section was called, “The Forest Journey” and showed the same girl walking hand and hand with another girl, her same age.

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5. Nevada SCBWI October Conference

Virginia City---an old West mining town overlooking a high desert valley. Quaint and touristy. A place of Sunday church bells and t-shirt shops. And, last weekend, host to the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Nevada chapter October conference. I came, I saw, I spoke, I critiqued. Here's the tally:
(1) 45 minute speech 'The Picturebook Process: From Manuscript to Bound Book
(9) 20 minute manuscript critiques
(1) 1 1/2 hour seminar featuring 'After the First Draft: 12 steps to get your manuscript ready for submission'
(2) panel discussions
It was a busy weekend.
The dozen or so members of the faculty stayed at the St Mary's Art Center, a former late 19th century hospital said to be haunted by a benevolent nun.

Saturday night, a few of us brave sorts went looking for her in the attic, only to be greeted by a mysteriously positioned chair:

There must have been around 300 people attending the conference, which started bright and early Saturday morning with an inspiring talk by Bruce Hale, author of the funny kid-noir Chet Gecko series. We'd had a nice talk the night before about our mutual admiration for Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett (his favorite: The Big Sleep; mine: The Dain Curse; mutual favorite: The Long Goodbye---we both agreed the 1970's Altman movie was disappointing). Bruce's Saturday morning talk featured lots of four-letter words. Surprising in a children's author, really. No no no, actually, the four letter words were (not in the order he presented them): RISK, LUCK, PUSH, and a few others, useful to an author's evolution. The "risk" section, I believe, featured Bruce in a powder blue leisure suit looking quite Mr. Seventies. Now showing that photo, right there, was risky indeed. A very brave author, Mr. Hale.

Next came the lovely Houghton Mifflin editor Julia Richardson with wise words and tips for unpublished authors. I then shuffled up to do my little spiel. I couldn't find my notes w
hen I packed my suitcase Thursday night so I had to wing it and go by the bullets on my Powerpoint presentation. Amazingly enough, I survived. Last of the Keynote gang was a young agent from New York's Donald Maass Agency, Stephen Barbara, who was funny, informative, and charmingly honest in his speech about the place of agents in the industry. He did an interesting on-the-spot survey about how people chose the books they bought. Funny how few of them had to do with advertising---the top two seemed to be 1) The book was by a favorite author 2) Someone had recommended it.

The afternoon was devoted to picturebook critiques (for me) and a selection of seminars, including ones by Ellen Hopkins, Suzanne Williams (our hard-working Regional Adviser),
Susan Hart Linquist, Jim Averbeck, novelist and SCBWI president Stephen Mooser (who turns out to be a very lucky person to have standing next to you if you play the slot machines at the Reno Airport), Barbara Marquand, and Teri Farley.

That night, we all gathered at the historic Fourth Ward School for a reading of children's literature and storytelling by a member of the Paiute Indian tribe.

Back at the Art Center, much chocolate was eaten and wine consumed. A dozen sugar high, half-drunk children's book authors and illustrators is not a pretty sight. I dragged myself off to bed feeling fat and slightly dizzy.

I woke up the next morning to this:

I hadn't been up to see the dawn since I'd caught a seven o'clock flight to Paris four years ago. Sunrise on the high desert has a very particular light---it's a light that makes you feel bright and hopeful. I got dressed quickly as I could and set off for a walk to one of the old cemeteries.

I came across some interesting headstones in the Catholic cemetery:

Back at the art center, it was time for more critiques with a break at lunch for a quick walk into town:

Mansion on Millionaire's Row Abandoned bank safe

The main street

After my afternoon seminar, it was time to say a quick goodbye to everyone and rush off to the airport with Mr. Mooser and Barbara Marquand.

Goodbye 'o shining Virginia City!

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6. The Relunctant Potterhead

This children's book editor was a long time in coming to the Harry Potter fold. I distrust anything with a mass following. Call it elitism or snobbery or rank individualism but the only club I would ever be a member of would have Groucho Marx as its president. So I refused to watch 'Lost' or 'The Sopranos.' I refused to read 'The Da Vinci Code.' And of course, I went nowhere near a certain series of books about a boy wizard. For professional purposes, I eventually perused the first chapter of book one while kneeling in the aisle of a bookstore. It didn't grab me and, snobby-me, I didn't think it was all that well-written. When people would ask me what I thought of the books, I would respond that, as someone who cared about children's literacy, I was immensely grateful that the series was getting kids to put aside their video games, DVDs, and Ipods, and crack open 500 page tomes. But I didn't understand the phenomenon.

Until last summer.

Book six was just coming out and my boyfriend's mother had given me a copy of the book---bought at midnight of the launch day. I figured I couldn't just dive into the sixth book. And I'd seen the movies and they hadn't been bad. After all, I had a big crush on David Thewlis who'd played Professor Lupin in the third movie. And I was impressed by the significant health-enhancing power given to chocolate in that movie. I could identify with the need to eat a little block of chocolate when such things as the dementors---or, in Muggle world, the DMV---had sucked one's life force. So I found a Scholastic paperback edition of the first book at Moe's books and took it with me to Cape Cod, where Brian's parent's lived, for a bit of light summer reading.

I quickly became totally sucked in.

One thing about the Potter phenomena: the more books you read, the more fanatical you become. I remember seeing a guy in his twenties several years ago walking down a busy sidewalk in downtown San Francisco, nose deep in book three. At the time I thought, "poor deluded soul." But by the time I reached book three, I was calling in to work sick just to finish the darn thing. (It was professional development after all.) Over the course of two months, I read all six books, one right after the other. Now, most fans read one book and they have to wait six months to a year for the next one. It allows their poor fevered brains to cool down a bit. But I was piling on the Potter books one after another---not re-reading them, mind you: reading them each for the first time. So when I came to the end of 'The Half Blood Prince'---with all its awful revelations about Snape and, what I insist is a certain someone's FAKE death---I felt like I had just walked off a cliff.

I hit the ground back in Muggle world. Ouch.

But then the Goblet of Fire movie came out. For the first time I went to see one of the movies on opening night. I took my niece and nephew. I was actually giddy (though, sadly, Mr. Thewlis was not part of the cast). I remember as a kid going to see the second Indiana Jones movie and being so excited that I nearly hyperventilated and peed my pants at the same time. Twenty-five years later, this was a pretty close approximation. After the sad end of my 3150 page immersion, the movie was a chance to revisit a place which had become dear to my heart. It was a brief two-and-a-half hour visit and, of course, lacking in the intimacy that exists between page and reader, but it was all I would have until the next book.

Which took a year to get here.

Which will finally come out next Friday at midnight. And I'll have another Harry Potter first-time experience then: First time going to a midnight Harry Potter release party.

Just in time, too. There won't be another one.

AND the new movie has David Thewlis in it. Dreamy Prof. Lupin.

So have I learned my lesson about turning my nose up at mass phenomenons?

Hey, if they're as good as Ms. Rowling's creation, lay 'em on me.

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7. Washington Post Article About Harry Potter Editor

Inside scoop about how he edits the biggest kids' book series ever.

Click here.

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8. Tagged! 8 Things About mememe

I'm so excited! I've been tagged for the first time.

Here are the rules: Each player lists 8 facts/habits about themselves. The rules of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

I was tagged by Gail at 'Through the Studio Door'.

1. I was born in a subburb of Paris and lived there until I was seven. The town's city hall was torched during the big Paris riots a couple of years ago.

2. John Malkovich ALMOST invited me to have lunch with him. I was studying in the south of France when I was 20 and came across a movie set near a friend's house. I sat down to watch as John Malkovich practiced a scene. He kept looking over but i thought he was looking at the cute high school girls sitting next to me. About a half hour later, everyone took a break for lunch. I sat there, all my myself, waiting for my friend who was bound to come home from class soon. Then John Malkovich came out of the building where they were filming and walked towards me. I looked around, but there was no one else around---everyone had gone to lunch on the lovely Cours Mirabeau. I got so shy and nervous, that I just stared at the ground. He walked up...took a few steps to my right....then turned around and went back inside the building. Maybe he figured I didn't look as good up close as I did far away. Who knows with these movie stars?

3. When I was eight, I would go to a horse ranch every Saturday morning and practice horse vaulting with my sister. This involved getting up on a trotting horse and doing tricks like standing on their backs, being the top girl in a five-person pyramid, and standing with one leg extended behind me. This is the closest I've gotten so far to my dream of performing in a circus.

4. I love just about every movie Preston Sturges ever made.

5. I can read tarot cards.

6. When I was fifteen, I saved a girl from getting hit by a Mack truck when I grabbed her arm and pulled her back onto the sidewalk.

7. I just started beekeeping in my Berkeley garden.

8. My boyfriend and I went on a pilgrimage to Shirley Jackson's home in Benington, Vermont, even though it's a private home and somebody lives there and all we could do was stand outside and take a picture.

Next victims!
Grow Wings


Jimbo Jabber

Devas T

Marvelous Madness


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I'm not sure if it's an occupational hazard of being a children's book editor but every once in a while I develop a crush on an illustrator---not your standard secret-love-note heart-in-your-throat wanna-get-married-and-have-babies crushes. No! More like a visual crush. A visiting-their-website-three-times-a-day crush. A desperately-want-to-find-a-book-to-have-them-illustrate crush. Of course I have my list of favorite illustrators, many of whom I'm too shy to introduce myself formally to and must admire from the digital version of 'across the room.' But every few months or so, there's one illustrator I find myself obsessing about. Instead of the adolescent anx of 'Does he like me?', I ask myself, 'Would he or she work with me?' Mostly, though, I just look at the pretty pictures and salivate.

My latest illustrator crush is Ian Benfold Haywood. I love the quirky elegance of his style---light, loose lines but textured with collage elements. I love the cottony beard and cheery red Victorian parlor of his Santa Claus.

Another favorite is the little red-headed girl on the beach, by the old stately European hotel. It makes me think of Nabokov and Roald Dahl's The Witches. It has a very Old Europe feel.

Every once in a while, an illustrator will put a few of their sketchbook pages on their sites and I find that quite a treat. Sketches have a spontaneity and unselfconsciousness all their own. Check out these funny rabbit fellows from one of Mr. Haywood's sketchbooks:

These guys may never have a story of their own but in sketch form they provoke the imagination to wander and wonder: the bonneted bunny has a serious little determined look on his face. There looks to be the start of a mask on the middle rabbit---was he putting on a disguise? And what of the feathered head-dress of the third bunny?

I don't love everything about my job---but I do love some things: illustrator crushes are one of those things. And they're much less humiliating than the adolescent kind.

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10. New York Times Article Explores the Realities of Book Publishing

Here's a terrific article that explores why book publishing is such a gamble.

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11. My Office

Alvina at the Blue Rose Girls blog bravely posted a photo of her messy office, so I decided I should do the same. I'm proud of my messy office! Look how colorful it is! Look at those beautiful illustration samples on the bulletin board! I'm especially proud of the full moon poster over my desk. My astrology friend is always talking about the importance of the moon to creative people. Once, when I was 16 years old and couldn't sleep, I went out in the garden and the full moon cast my moon shadow. The moon and I have been friends ever since.

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Should a children's writer get an agent?

There are definite advantages and disadvantages to having a children’s book agent, many of which depend on who your agent is and their strengths and weaknesses. One obvious advantage in having an agent is being able to get your work into the hands of editors who don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. Another advantage is having someone who knows the business negotiate the publisher’s contract on your behalf. However if your agent doesn’t know the children’s book business, doesn’t have a rolodex full of editors to contact, doesn’t have experience in negotiating contracts, you certainly might be better off managing your relationships with editors and publishers on your own and keeping the 15% commission for yourself.

Good agents are real networkers. They attend conferences, they regularly correspond with editors from an array of publishers (corporate and independent alike), they know the tastes and preferences of individual editors, and they keep current with news of the publishing biz, such as the formation of new imprints or changes in publishing staff. The children’s book publishing world is vast, with many different options for writers---a good agent will know which arena best suits your writing, whether that’s trade, institutional, or mass market. Tricycle Press is a solid trade publisher but I’ve had agents send me projects that were really suited to a mass market publisher. It’s important that an agent knows not to waste her client’s or an editor’s time by sending a publisher projects which don’t work for their list.

There are unscrupulous agents out there and writers should do their homework when choosing who to submit their work to. Luckily, there are websites that keep track of agents to avoid (like http://accrispin.blogspot.com ). Talking to fellow writers or attending SCBWI conferences are also good places to start your research.

Once you find the right agent, it can make all the difference in the world to your professional career. The right agent can provide encouragement, direction, and professional savvy, in doing so making the author/agent partnership incredibly powerful. Getting there, however, takes some responsibility on the author’s part. This can mean: 1) Finding the right agent for you and your work. 2) Having reasonable expectations. 3) Being clear with those expectations. 4) Trusting your agent’s suggestions to make your work more publishable. 5) Providing your agent with projects she can sell.

An author can get published by Tricycle Press without an agent. In fact, roughly a third of our authors and illustrators are unagented. At the moment, it may be easier for an illustrator to get their work seen by editors and art directors through illustration websites such as ispot or portfolios.com, or by setting up their own websites. But writers may soon have more and more forums for their work on the web. Certainly blogs are gaining more popularity and it might be conceivable that one day editors will look for writing talent on the web, just as they now search for illustration talent on the web.

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Getting Noticed in the Slush Pile

As an English Major who made sure to take a creative writing course every semester, I'm familiar with the terror of the blank page and try my best to bring to my work as a children's book editor sympathy and respect for those who trade in words.

Those many writing classes I took in college taught me firsthand that writers, especially unpublished ones, do not get a lot of encouragement. They are told that publishing is one of the most competitive industries around, that editors receive hundreds of manuscripts a day, and that you are more likely to be attacked by a grizzly bear than to publish a book. It’s a little offputting.

What I have found, working on the other side of the publishing business, is that things aren’t all that grim for those with talent and those who take their craft seriously. Good, careful writing and imaginative stories are not flooding publishers' mailrooms. It’s HARD to write and though at times it may feel like one cannot throw a rock through a Starbucks without hitting a novelist, as many people have a talent for writing as have a talent for painting a landscape or playing the piano---which is to say, not THAT many people can actually do it. What makes writing different is that everyone uses words everyday while, on the other hand, few people know how to wield paintbrushes or tame musical instruments. That means that many of the submissions my publisher receives were sent in by someone who saw their nephew making friends with a cat and dashed off the story in fifteen minutes. So, even though Tricycle may receive between twenty to thirty manuscripts a day, when reading day comes around, we editors may have to go through five or six HUNDRED manuscripts before coming across one writer who genuinely has a gift with words, and who has spent time honing their craft and their voice.

With children’s writing, however, it’s not simply a matter of knowing how to string words together. As an editor I also look for another talent that’s just as rare: that of understanding the child’s point of view. Between childhood and adulthood most of us pass through a veil of forgetfulness---as adults we often look on children as short aliens. They talk differently than we do, they value things differently than we do, they have weird fears and phobias, dislike foods for no good reason, and can spend hours entertaining themselves with a stick and a sandbox. It’s not often that an adult can access a child’s sensibility. When I see a writer capable of this, I, as an editor, sit up and take notice. Combine this ability with good writing and the author will most assuredly stand out from the hundreds of manuscripts in the unsolicited manuscript pile.

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Just about a year ago exactly, we were still living on Hillegass Avenue near Telegraph and the U.C. Berkeley campus. We were three blocks from my favorite bookstore, Moe's, and just around the corner was the 'Bateau Ivre,' a truly European-style coffee house named after a Rimbaud poem, which was a wonderful place to write and read.

Our apartment was the largest I'd ever lived in, had high ceilings, wood floors, Craftman details in the old Berkeley tradition. It had a butter-yellow kitchen with a wonderful old Wedgewood stove and, in the living room, there was a fireplace, which we used often on foggy Bay Area evenings. I was perfectly happy with our place during the week, but, somehow, always felt restless there on weekends. Our living room windows faced out on the street and, since we were on ground level, it was easy to feel that someone could look in on you. I wanted a place that made me feel coccooned.

But, despite the restlessness, it was home. Every evening our large ginger cat, Angus, would meet me on the driveway, waiting to give me his customary greeting: I would bend my nose down to him and he would rise up on his tiptoes to touch it with his own.

Angus had come to live with us while we were still living in San Francisco, but, though a friendly fellow from the start, he was cautious about adopting us as his family. We courted him for over a year, but still, he kept a certain feline distance. We had been living on Hillegass six months when a subtle change began to happen. His relationship to us became more possessive. He began to need to be in the same room as us and would sit calmly watching us as we brushed our teeth or took a bath. We respected his rituals---rituals are important to cats---and would endure the necessity of inviting him repeatedly before he would dain to jump up on the sofa or armchair into our laps. We also knew to treat him like the household sovereign he was and would coo and praise him continually, telling him how handsome and majestic he was (he would look upon us tolerantly and blink). Coming home, Brian would often pause as he turned the key and wait to hear Angus' pretty meow before opening the door.

He was not a vocal type--preferring the dignity of silence---but when he did meow, it was a sweet, plaintive cry. It sounded like a kitten's cry, though Angus was a big, 18 pound Tom. Somehow, this discrepancy was incredibly touching. Angus had lived ten years before Brian's sister met him in a shelter. We knew nothing concrete about those ten years and amused ourselves by trying to fill in the gaps with clues from Angus' habits and personality.

Certainly he had been loved before--he was too sweet-natured, trusting, and affectionate for it to be otherwise. It had taken him some time (18 months!) to warm up to us, which might have been explained by his having spent almost two years in the shelter and, in all that time, seeing so many people come and go, perhaps he'd learned not to attach himself to anyone in particular. He had chronic bowel trouble, which might have been a result of the long plane trip home from Massachusetts to California. If he had had it before, could this have been why he ended up in the shelter? It was hard to think of someone abandoning him because of it. Yet the problem did seem to be somehow psychological. We tried every variety of food, every type of litter box, medicines from various vets---the problem was sometimes severe (he underwent THREE enema treatments on one particular trip to the vet's), at other times it seemed to disappear. Because it seemed to be psychological, it was hard at times not to get frustrated with him. We'd find his "presents" as we came to call his little piles of hard poop, hidden in corners of the closet, behind the armchair, and, sometimes, in plain sight in the middle of the room. He couldn't bring himself to use the litterbox and so he would hold it in until he either became constipated, or he couldn't hold it in anymore. We wondered if his problem was the result of some past trauma---how could we ever know?

So we continued taking him to the vet's and trying different remedies. And other than his bowel troubles, Angus was a wonderful cat. Brian and I told each other again and again how lucky we were to have found him. He was almost doglike in his loyalty and companionship. The sound of his 'thump' as he jumped into the apartment from our bedroom window, home from his evening wanderings, never failed to provoke in me a quiet happiness.

One April night, just a little over a year ago, Angus woke us up---he was running frantically around the bedroom, the way he did when his stomach was bothering him. I stumbled out of bed, scooped him up, and brought him to the litterbox in the living room, again trying to assure him that this was the place to do his business. At dinner, we had given him a heavy dose of one of the vet's medications which was supposed to get his bowels moving. It was obviously starting to take effect. I kneeled next to him and petted him, and whispered reassurances, as he strained to get all the nasty stuff out of him. I'd felt sorry for him before on such occasions, but this time, I felt no resentment at being woken up in the middle of the night. I felt a pure sort of maternal compassion in the sense of feeling with a being in pain. Like a mother, I would have done anything to make him feel better. He sensed this and became calmer. He allowed me to comfort him. I felt the closest to him then than I'd ever had.

I woke up late the next morning and rushed to get ready for a meeting with my boss. Brian had been up for half-an-hour already and I gave him a kiss as he headed out the door. Angus seemed weak from the previous night's happenings but when I came into the bedroom to get dressed, he'd already jumped out the window to start his morning rounds. I heard a weak meow as I hurriedly pulled on my pants and figured he was having a confrontation with the neighbor's cat. Then I grabbed my bag and ran out the door. I was flying past the bedroom window when I saw him on the ground. The window is about six feet up, with a little ledge about half way down which Angus usually jumped on before jumping to the ground. Angus was lying on the ground with his neck turned just slightly abnormally. I dropped my bags and ran to him. I remember screaming "no" repeatedly. He was still alive and I said a few words to him, then he breathed a last little breath and that was it. I ran inside, still talking to him, talking to God, and called a nearby vet hospital. They told me to bring him over right away. I was afraid of moving him, so I found a piece of plywood and managed to slide him onto it. His tongue, by then, had turned blue so I tried to push oxygen into him by performing mouth to mouth. I drove to the vet hospital, about a quarter mile away, talking to Angus the whole time, begging him not to die. They took him away and sat me in a waiting room. About five minutes later the vet came in and told me he was dead. Angus' neck had been broken in the fall.

So that was how Hillegass Avenue stopped becoming home to us. How could we come home after a long day's work without our little friend running down the driveway to greet us? How could we look at our front window, his customary look-out spot, without feeling his absence? We gave the landlord notice, lived three months in the Oakland Hills, then found our little back-lot cottage on Woolsey Street.

In August we visited the Berkeley Humane Society and Brian immediately fell in love with a chihuahua named Perkins. So Perkins became our second pseudo-child---one who never knew his similarly russet-colored brother. I spent the first few months with Perkins noticing the differences between him and Angus. I was worried that having Perkins would make me forget Angus. I didn't want to think that having a pet was like filling a slot with any adorable creature who might come one's way. I didn't want to think that a soul was replaceable.

The anniversary of Angus' death came and went last month. Brian and I mentioned it to each other but there were no flowers or visits to Hillegass. When we visited my parent's on Easter, I forgot to stop by his grave in my mother's garden.

And yet, writing about him here has made me remember who he was and that this small, mute, furry being was unique---and that I loved him. And still love him.

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Last Saturday my fourteen-year-old nephew visited and, after a home-cooked breakfast, he, myself, Brian, and Perkins headed for the Berkeley Flea Market at the Ashby metro station four blocks away from our house. The flea market is one of my favorite things about living in this neighborhood. When we first moved here, I checked the Berkeley police reports on the web to see how this neighborhood compared to our previous one near the university. Though there are bars in many windows, chain link fences, tough-looking kids in low pants who mumble and ride small bicycles, thumping Cadillacs with long fins tearing down the street at 2am, though there's all of this, the crime rate here is no higher than in the neighborhood with 2 million dollar homes.

At the Malcolm X Elementary School, where we go to vote, the kids planted a garden with Alice Waters and the school itself, built in the 1920's, looks quite handsome with its renovations and new coat of paint for which a sign over the baseball field thanks Berkeley voters (who always vote for anything education-related---it's nice living in a liberal bubble if you're a kid from a poor neighborhood).

Two streets up Ashby from the school is the Ashby 'Bay Area Rapid Transit' station, or 'BART' for short. On weekends when the rain spares us, an array of vendors set up shop in the parking lot. There are many immigrants from Africa who come, selling wares and participating in the drum circle. If the wind is right, I can hear the drums on Sunday mornings when I work in my garden. A few Sundays ago I walked over and sat on the sidewalk watching the drummers. There were a good twenty of them---some beginners, looking to their neighbors for techniques, others confident rhythm-masters tapping with abandon. That was the day I met the sweet potato pie vendor. He was walking through the crowd with a basket over one arm. He caught my eye and I smiled and asked, "Is that sweet potato pie?" and he said, "How do you know about sweet potato pie?" I wish I could have answered him, "I'm from Alabama. My mama makes the best sweet potato pie you've ever tasted." Instead I had to admit to having learned about them from books---no family memories, no legitimate claim to a southern tradition. I went home and made tea and ate my sweet potato and peach pie. Unlike other sweet potato pies I've tasted, this one wasn't at all starchy---it combined two distinct sweet flavors: the chewy sweetness of sweet potato, and the juicy sweetness of peach.

I was hoping we'd run into him and that I could introduce fourteen-year-old Malcolm to the magic of a sweet potato and peach pie when we ambled over last Saturday. We didn't find him, but the drum circle was there, and the lady selling Afghan rugs was there, and so was the African woman who wore tall, colorful turbans, and sold musky-smelling sugar scrubs. Brian looked for a jig-saw, Malcolm looked at the CDs, Perkins sniffed around and patiently let small children pet him. Then I came across a vendor who had old things.

I've grown up surrounded by old things, my mother being an antiques dealer. From an early age she instilled in me a sense that objects carried their history with them. How many faces had looked in this mirror? How many happy faces? Sad ones? What had they hoped for? Where are they buried now? Everything we had was at least a hundred years old. My mother prefers rustic French antiques from the 19th century. Armoires, vaiselliers, buffets---words none of my school chums knew---were everyday words in our house. "Set the table. Use the napkins in the vaiselliers."

My mother spent years weaving chair seats with cane and rush for extra money. Our bathtub was always annoyingly filled with soaking pieces of rush making the rush flexible enough to weave with. My mother taught me old weaving skills that an elderly peasant in the French Bordeaux region had taught her. We would sit together watching television and caning chairs.

On weekends and holidays, I would often get stuck for endless hours in an antique store as my mother poked around, negotiated mercilessly with the seller, chatted with the sales ladies. If we were walking up a street and I saw an antique store ahead, I would try to distract my mother into looking the other way. It never worked. She could smell antiques a mile away.

And now, I love old things, too. Our house is a mix of Ikea, street finds, objects from various travels, and things my mother has given us. But when I saw that vendor last weekend, I felt this ridiculous excitement as to what I might find. Here's what was uncovered:

* a handpainted china teacup from England
* a set of turn-of-the-century stereoscope cards of Japan. One shows Tokyo as it was then---low lying, traditional houses with old tile roofs. Another card shows the harvesting of silk worms.
* a stack of postcards from the New York Zoological Garden---its name was changed in the 1940's to the Bronx Zoo. I worked at the Bronx Zoo while I was at graduate school
* an old needle case tied with red ribbon. I loved the fabric lining the interior.
* a wonderful old book full of engravings titled, "Great Men and Famous Women." It includes brief biographies of such figures as Joan of Arc, Leif Erikson, and Caesar.

I took my treasures home and they joined my collection of old things, adding to the soup of old spirits attached to these objects, populating our little cottage with history.

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The recent advent of April's Fool's Day and Laini's current posting has inspired me to try a little mockery and since I'm too much of a coward to mock anyone else, I think I'll try mocking myself. This should be an interesting exercise in megalomania and self-hatred. What have I done worthy of mockery?

Well, despite fifteen years of driving I still cannot parallel park and managed to knock over two garbage cans in the attempt yesterday evening. I was also convinced this week at lunchtime that I could cook a mini quiche (the ones from Trader Joe's) on its paper tray in the toaster oven because the temperature only went up to 350F, and---as all we literary types know---paper only burns at Fahrenheit 451. Of course I tried this out in the office break room to disastrous results.

I once bought a very expensive pair of shoes because I liked the egg yolk yellow of their leather. I brought them to the cobbler because they were scuffing and he scoffed at me and said, "these shoes are not meant to be walked in." I suppose they were created for someone who had an army of handsome young men to carry her where're she went. I now keep the shoes on a glass shelf with a glass bell over them.

When I was in gradeschool, I quoted Bugs Bunny to a group of boys who were teasing me: "You're MUD spelled backwards." They didn't hesitate to tell me that "dumb" had a "b" at the end. Bugs had let me down.

Several years ago I asked a Parisian baker in French if he used "preservatifs" in his pies. "Preservatifs" in French means condoms.

I was once asked to introduce a fellow in front of a large crowd. I presented everyone to Daniel Boone, told them who he was, what he did, and where he lived, what his interests were, things about his family. It was only after I was finished with this little speech---which actually lasted a good ten minutes--- that the fellow, looking somewhat red-faced, leaned over to tell me that his name was not, in fact, "Daniel Boone" but rather "David Boone." I had apparently forgotten his name and remembered the Alamo.

In my thesis paper for a Master's degree in French Studies I referred twice to the current president of France as M. Giscard d'Estaing. The president was, and still is, M. Jacques Chirac. M. Giscard d'Estaing had been president thirty years earlier. I believe my advisor passed me simply because she did not want such a nitwit in her program.

My boss told me recently that she felt I was the type of person who attracted disasters. She said it with a mix of humor and a little---or did I imagine it?---contempt. I actually don't get into half as many scrapes as I used to as a kid. My childhood memories are one long string of catastrophes. The tragic part of it all is that I always had the best intentions---whether it was giving an anonymous dead cat a proper burial (the day before my father used a roto-tiler on the yard) or keeping tadpoles as pets (how was I to know they were cannibals). I felt strongly as a child that the universe was quite unfair to put me through these things.

To tell you the truth, it's actually kind of refreshing to admit to one's stupidities. I highly recommend it to everyone reading this. In fact, I'll create and post a representative drawing to everyone who will respond to this post with their own stories.



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